As Ottawa grapples with rising cases of COVID-19, the leader of one of the city’s largest business groups is calling on residents to step up their efforts to contain the deadly virus through measures such as wearing masks at all times in public and venturing out only when necessary.
“Our (case) numbers have increased dramatically over the last few weeks,” Sueling Ching, the president and CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade, said Wednesday afternoon. “We have to be more diligent.”
Ching, whose organization represents hundreds of businesses, said the province will likely have no choice but to extend widespread shutdowns aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 if the city’s infection rate continues at its current level.
“From a public-health perspective, the message needs to be loud and clear: every citizen in our community has an obligation to adhere to public-health recommendations so that we can get (the virus) under control and keep our economy going,” she said in an interview with OBJ.
“Health and the economy, and to add to that, mental well-being, is all part of the same conversation. How we handle the pandemic has huge economic implications.”
"Every citizen ... has an obligation to adhere to public-health recommendations so that we can get (the virus) under control and keep our economy going."
While Ching said some board of trade members have suggested the city needs to expedite its rollout of vaccines to health-care workers and other vulnerable residents, she said she’s been assured the vaccination effort is proceeding as planned in Ottawa.
Ching said it’s up to individual residents to do their part to ensure that stricter lockdown measures such as those announced in Quebec on Wednesday – where the government is imposing a curfew starting Saturday and extending the closure of schools and non-essential businesses – don’t happen on the Ontario side of the river.
“The real issue is that the numbers are rising,” she said. “What our fear is now as the numbers continue to rise is if we aren’t able as a community to do something about that, we will be facing longer and stricter measures, and that will continue to further cripple our economy.”
Ching’s comments echo those of the city’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, who strongly urged residents Wednesday to wear masks at all times when outdoors.
“People should wear masks when they're outside of their house as much as possible,” Etches told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning. “It's an added barrier. You don't know if you're going to come into close contact with someone or not.”
Ottawa reported 87 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, down from 123 the day before. But the city’s infection rate has risen dramatically over the past two weeks, making it highly unlikely that Eastern Ontario’s current four-week shutdown that went into effect on Dec. 26 will end earlier than Jan. 23, as many business leaders had hoped.
Ching said Wednesday she’ll continue to work with local and provincial authorities to find “more targeted ways” to reopen businesses once new COVID-19 cases begin to subside.
“The main concern is for everybody to understand that we need to be more diligent than ever in making sure that we stop the spread,” she said.